By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
After 20 years studying special education in charter schools, Lauren Morando Rhim saw little progress.
The conversation about special ed in charter schools is all about whether charter schools should accept students with learning disabilities, she said, not about sharing ideas and information about exceptional programs at charter schools so others can learn from them. And nothing was changing.
In an effort to change the conversation, Rhim co-founded the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, which launched last week.
“I think (the center) addresses a critical need in the charter movement,” said James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “Special education has not received the attention and the support it really needs among charter schools, and I think the center is going to be helpful to charter schools as they step forward to meet the needs of kids who have special challenges.”
About 20 percent of students have a learning disability, Wendorf said. That includes the 10 percent to 15 percent of students who have dyslexia and others with attention-deficit disorders or hearing impairments. Learning disabilities are not correlated with intelligence, he said.
A recent study showed that learning-disabled students in charter schools outperformed their peers in math, but charter schools can improve to serve more students.
A big part of the issue, Rhim and Wendorf said, is a misperception of what it means to have a learning disability.
“Learning disabilities are essentially invisible,” Wendorf said. “There’s sometimes a ‘myth of mildness’ because these disabilities are invisible, but for any person who struggles with dyslexia or another kind of learning disability, the struggles are very real and can cause tremendous challenges and difficulties.”
Most special-needs students can learn in the regular classroom with minor support, Rhim said.
“They can be successful. They can learn on par with their peers, once they’re provided with those supports,” she said.
Disabled students often suffer from lower expectations, she said.
“This isn’t necessarily malicious, but people say, ‘Oh, they have a disability, we don’t want to push them too much,’ when really there’s decades of research, with exceptions for kids with the most severe disabilities, we really should try to keep our expectations as high as possible,” she said. “Those expectations are so critically important in terms of how students see themselves and how other students see them and how their teachers see them.”
Some charter schools offer great programs for special needs students; others don’t want to enroll them. Most fall somewhere in between.
“Much of the dialogue about special education in charter schools now wants to paint charter schools with a homogeneous brush, (as if) all charter schools discriminate,” she said. “That’s not accurate. There’s a whole continuum.”
The center will work with policymakers and others who decide what programs the schools can offer.
“As a country, we have come a long way in our efforts to provide better educational opportunities for students with disabilities, but there is more work to be done,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement. “Because of the flexibility charter schools are given to innovate to serve their students, they are well positioned to give special needs children a world-class public education.”
As for policy, Rhim said she would like to see clear laws about how special ed is handled, and laws that address fair distribution of public education money.
Charter schools are public schools, but oftentimes they receive less funding than traditional public schools, making it more difficult to serve students with disabilities, Rhim said.
“The ideal would be that all charter schools welcome a diverse array of kids with disabilities and have the skills necessary to offer really high-quality programs to support kids with disabilities,” she said.
The goal is, “in a nutshell, moving the conversation from compliance to actually exceptional programs and outcomes for kids with disabilities.”
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
- Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
- Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
- DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
- Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
- Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
- Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
- Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
- ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
- NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
- Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
- Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
- Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
- Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
- SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
- DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
- U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
- ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
- New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
- Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
- $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
- Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
- Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
- Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
- Parents make good school choices, study says
- Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
- In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
- Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
- School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
- Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
- PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
- College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
- Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
- What is Massachusetts doing right?
- Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
- Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
- Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
- North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
- Philadelphia school district threatens charters
- Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
- Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
- Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
- Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
- California students sue state over ineffective teachers
- Study: Public supports parent choice in education
- Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
- New Orleans tops school choice index
- AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
- Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
- PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
- Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
- Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
- Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
- Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
- WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
- Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
- Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
- Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
- New York charter school focuses on family, community
- NC school vouchers on hold
- WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
- Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
- PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
- Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
- Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
- California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
- Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
- PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
- Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships